Filmmaker and curator Theo Panagopoulous reflects on his experiences working with SMHAF as part of the New Promoters scheme, supported by Film Hub Scotland. Theo curated three film screenings exploring the theme of Healing, which took place in November and December 2021. 

At the time of writing this article, it has been ten days since the final event ended but the feeling still remains. The feeling that emerged through the silent moments of the screening. I find that there is always an unspoken contract of trust between the audience and the curator. That contract is based on safety, both physical and emotional, expectations and surprise. For me, the silence was the seal of that contract.

Six months ago, I wouldn’t have expected to be given the opportunity to curate three events from scratch with such freedom and support but early in December 2021, I was sitting among a large crowd at the CCA Glasgow, one of the venues I always deeply adored in the city, experiencing with exciting and nervous energy a programme I very passionately curated. I can’t thank enough the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival and Film Hub Scotland’s New Promoter Scheme for the privilege of being selected in this role.

For me every type of privilege comes with a sense of responsibility and trying to give back as much as possible. That manifested in having the audience in mind first and supporting stories that focused on marginalised communities. As a person of mixed heritage (Greece, Lebanon and Palestine) as well as being a migrant in Scotland, I wanted to bring the experience of any type of “outsider” in the forefront. It was also important for me to open up a space during this very difficult time in which a group of people could gather safely and have a collective experience while reflecting on what the concept of healing could feel and look like.

Reflecting back on the process, I can identify three basic steps I followed that there were in no way linear in form. The first step was focusing on mental health as part of SMHAF and exploring stories that addressed difficult topics through a reflective and sensitive tone. By curating a trigger-sensitive programme, it could make the screenings more accessible to people with lived experience of mental health to attend and feel safer as part of the experience.

The second step focused on having at the core of the curation an anti-racist worldview. That meant that the perspective of the screenings had to be global by challenging the perceptions of stories centred on the global north but expanding wider by exploring the intersectionality of healing and diverse communities across the world. Thus, mental health could be explored as part of a wider social and political system in which marginalised communities are affected disproportionally.

The final step was developing an ethical outlook and developing partnerships that could have a positive social impact. I am very happy that the team at SMHAF was very open and supportive in taking the project in that direction. I felt that it would be appropriate to link with organisations that were doing important social work in communities in Glasgow and thus we could respect the space that would be given to us. By working with organisations such as Milk Cafe, Govanhill Baths Community Trust, Scottish Documentary Institute, as well as panellists with diverse experiences, the themes of healing wouldn’t remain only among the film selection but would translate into building tangible connections in the real world.

During the last screening, I reflected on the year we all have had, some better and some worse, and wondered how isolation has affected us and how the world might have felt a bit more individualised. However, the interest I saw during these events I curated for SMHAF and people’s excitement to see different stories and come together in a space. That silence I still remember, the reflective, uninterrupted, collective silence made me feel that it all of it was worth it. I felt that those spaces have meaning, that important voices from across the globe can be heard and that important nuanced discourses could open up in order to bring real and important change in this very flawed society we all live in.

Supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network, and funded by Screen Scotland and Lottery funding from the BFI.